Volume 103, Number 21 - January 25, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Undomesticated animals are rarely predictable
On Jan 18th and again on the 19th, Wyoming Game and Fish tried hard to start the second year of their Test and Removal program at Muddy Creek feedground. The program is designed to reduce brucellosis incidence in elk herds. The elk did not cooperate. The mood was faintly reminiscent of hunting season, a group (the second group) of warmly dressed guys and a few gals, leaned on truck beds telling stories. The first group of Game and Fish employees were staged in and around the trap at Muddy feedground patiently freezing in – 30 degree weather. Game and Fish did not want to spring the trap until they got enough “bleeders” in the trap.
The plan was to wait until around 150 elk gathered in the trap. Then the hidden employees would spring the trap and lock in the elk. Any bulls would be darted by employees standing outside the pen, and removed from the herd. The only “test eligible” or “bleeder” elk, the cows, would be separated into several dividing pens, and then run through a well-designed chute system. The cows would have their blood drawn, collected, and taken back to the Game and Fish office in Pinedale to be tested for the presence of brucellosis antibodies.
The elk would be held overnight, with a Game and Fish employee staying to monitor the elk and insure no one tried to disrupt the project. The infected elk would be loaded into trailers and taken to a slaughtering plant in Idaho.
Forty-five Game and Fish employees showed up for the Test and Removal program on both days, although few employees actually had the opportunity to participate. The new statewide brucellosis team had driven in from various parts of the state to use Muddy feedground as a training program. (Lesson number one: patience.)
Training the statewide brucellosis team is important because Game and Fish is planning to add a Test and Removal program at Pole Creek feedground next year, and at Scab Creek feedground the following year. One the first day of trapping, around 200 elk entered the trap but only 65 or so were test eligible females. On the second day of trapping, around 175 elk entered the trap, but again only approximately 65 elk were females. In addition, at one point in the day a magpie hovered over the trap and scared all the elk out of the trap.
Game and Fish personnel had previously counted and categorized the elk and determined the Muddy herd had a total of 385 elk and 228 test eligible females. The decision was made not to trigger the trap without 50 percent of the eligible females.
Game and Fish was also reluctant to close the trap without the requisite number of elk because they did not to educate the elk about the trap and reduce their chance of success on future trapping occasions.
“Some people viewed this trapping effort as a failure,” Scott Werbelow from Game and Fish said in a later correspondence, “but we actually had a pretty good number of elk in the trap, just not enough female bleeders.” He added that the very shallow snow depths and mild conditions at Muddy feedground have allowed the elk to paw for food at night and not be 100 percent reliant on hay. This made baiting the trap with hay more difficult and less enticing to the elk. Game and Fish is hoping to reschedule their Test and Removal program before the end of the month.
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